Hong Kong customs in $160 million endangered species bust

HONG KONG - Hong Kong customs officers said on Monday they had seized a huge haul of endangered seahorses and crocodile meat being smuggled into the city in a container of exotic foods worth more than US$1 million (S$160 million).

The 579 kilos of dried crocodile meat and 311 kilos of dried seahorses were hidden in a lorry container marked "deer antlers", along with birds' nests, dried deer tails and dried geckos, worth a total of US$1.03 million.

The 52-year-old driver of the lorry, from Hong Kong, was arrested after customs officials intercepted the truck at the Lok Ma Chau control point near the border with mainland China on Saturday, the customs department said in a statement.

"Among the seizures, the dried crocodylia meat and dried seahorses were endangered species," the statement added.

A spokesman said the exact names of the species were not immediately available. Crocodylia refers to reptiles including crocodiles and alligators.

Seahorses are coveted in parts of Asia for their supposed medicinal and aphrodisiac properties.

Under Hong Kong law, anyone found guilty of smuggling cargo into the southern Chinese city faces imprisonment of up to seven years and a maximum fine of HK$2 million.

In addition, those guilty of importing, exporting or possessing an endangered species for commercial purposes face up to two years in jail and a maximum HK$5 million fine, customs officials said.

The latest bust comes after Hong Kong customs last week made its third large seizure of illegal ivory in less than three months, intercepting 779 pieces of tusk that weighed over a tonne, worth some HK$10.60 million.